Developer: Ensemble Studios
Release Date: September 30, 2003
Pre-order 'AGE OF MYTHOLOGY: The Titans': PC
Microsoft and Ensemble Studios Age of Empires series is regarded as one of the most worthy and successful series in computer gaming. Both the original game, and the sequel, Age of Kings are credited with bringing many new wrinkles to real time strategy, and advancing to the genre towards the standard we currently enjoy.
Released just under a year ago, Age of Mythology was the next logical step in the series evolution, maintaining the core aspects that made the first two games so great, while adding a host of new twists of its own. The game focused on three actual historical races and their specific mythological beliefs. By bringing mythology into the game, Ensemble was able to introduce a variety of different units, which greatly added to the depth of the game. The concept of allowing the player to build towards a time limited special ability in the form of God powers was a subtle yet extremely effective stroke of genius on the part of the developer. Additionally, by starting each race off with one of three major Gods, each with their own major benefit, and at various points in the game, allowing the player to choose between different Demi-Gods who each possessed subtle yet useful benefits of their own, the game offered a dizzying variety of options for the player to consider and exploit. All of this was wrapped into what is arguably the very best graphics engine to date in an RTS game. The end result has been that, in an industry focused on the latest thing, Age of Mythology has enjoyed rare, lasting success.
Fittingly, Ensemble Studios has been diligently working on a feature full expansion for their latest craze, which is entitled The Titans. Building on the success of the formula established in the original game, Titans adds an entirely new race, the Atlanteans, a full fledged campaign that continues the original story, several new God powers, as well as a multitude of interface enhancements, game tweaks, editor commands, and streamlining. As the title suggests however, the biggest addition this expansion brings to the game is the Titan, which is a huge creature specific to each of the games now four races. Each race gets a different looking Titan, but all of them are extremely powerful, capable of causing massive damage and destruction, as well as being able to absorb a fair amount of punishment.
For starters, the games new race, the Atlanteans, are as well developed as the original three races. For their part, the new race seems to specialize in the ease of gathering resources, as they require no special buildings or units to do the gathering. Instead, each Atlantean citizen is able to gather any resource the player so chooses them to, and can switch from one resource to the next without any problem. The downside, I found out the hard way, is that Atlantean citizens are expensive, and will be a major target for the enemy. The Atlantean God powers seem to focus on teleporting units (and even buildings!) from one place to another, and the whole race seems to be devoted to speed and efficiency, especially in the area of unit production. Although it had been awhile since I’ve played Age of Mythology, I was amazed at how quickly I picked up this new race and began to exploit their various abilities. They are a welcome addition to the game, and offer more of that delicious, subtle strategy that this game is noted for.
As for the actual Titans themselves, from what I have seen, the cost of raising one will be great, but the damage and destruction that can cause will be worth it. Titans do bring a few strategic concerns to the table however. For example, everyone in the game is alerted the minute you begin construction on your Titan. Because of their immense power, it is unlikely that your opponent will simply sit back and let you do your thing. Individual Titans are highly vulnerable at certain points in the creation process, so the enemy is sure to have an attack and destroy mentality. I can see some major multiplayer mayhem over these Titans on the horizon, as it presents clear tactical decisions for all sides involved. Of course the major goal will be to pit one Titan against the other, a prospect that is sure to lead to massive carnage and devastation.
Another neat little feature with the Titans is the repeat button. When I first read about it, I figured the repeat button was nothing more than a simple infinite queue interface gizmo, but it’s not. The repeat button can actually recall patterns, so you can set it to create two of this unit and then one of that unit. This pattern will continue to repeat itself until you shut it off, and will be mindful of the population cap as well as your resources. I must admit I found it to be a rather useful little feature, especially when playing as the Atlanteans, who again seem to be designed to raise a large army quickly.
One other notable addition I noticed with the Titans is with the inclusion of what the preview guide calls random map personalities. These personalities can be used to actually set the computer to one of a host of specific AI’s, such as attacker, conqueror, or builder. Each of these personalities has a specific strategic philosophy, but also seems to be developed with a fair amount of flexibility in mind. I spent quite a bit of time with these various personalities and I found them all to be equally challenging, and good practice when preparing for online play. Rise of Nations has a similar feature, but I don’t recall seeing this in similar games, including the original.
Although I couldn’t test it out myself, the preview guide also mentions that the expansion contains new multiplayer connectivity code, and one of the products main focuses seems to be with multiplayer in general, making it even more accessible and complete than the original game.
Aside from all of the features mentioned here however, The Titans expansion once again exudes that fine quality and detail that both developer and publisher are known for. As good as the original game looked and played, this expansion is definitely poised to make everything that much better, and that’s the defacto role of an expansion pack, to make a good game even better. The preview copy I received is surprisingly complete, and could almost have been reviewed on its own. But suffice it to say that The Titans is going to be worthy of your attention.
The Titans expansion is currently scheduled for release around October 1st, and will retail for $29.00.